Marshall, Eisenhower Team in War, Peace

Article excerpt


In 1944, with the war in Europe increasingly dominated by American men and materiel, the British sought to increase their influence in council by providing Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower with a British deputy.

Eisenhower puzzled over how to respond to this power play, but Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, in Washington, had no problem. He cabled to Eisenhower, Under no circumstances make any concessions of any kind whatever. You .. have our complete confidence

This incident is one of many in which Marshall, who had hoped to command Allied forces in Europe himself, mentored and supported his younger colleague.

At one level, their cooperation was unremarkable; they were both professional soldiers and long-time admirers of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Although Marshall had graduated from Virginia Military Institute and Eisenhower from West Point, both were products of the Army school system. By 1942 each had responsibilities that, a decade earlier, would have seemed inconceivable.

Yet they were very different personalities. Eisenhower was a highly sociable officer who enjoyed a drink and a game of bridge. Marshall, in contrast, was cold and detached. He had few friends. As chief of staff he tolerated dissent, but his staff was sufficiently intimidated that only a brave officer would challenge the received wisdom.

Marshall's only recreation was horseback riding, the most solitary of sports. Late in the war one of Eisenhower's aides wrote, General Marshall is about the only one who doesn't call [Eisenhower] Ike. Calls him Eisenhower.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, when Eisenhower was only an officer on his staff, Marshall successfully urged a policy of Germany first. Along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marshall believed that if America were to lose the war it would not be because it had failed to defeat Japan, but because it had failed to defeat Germany.

Thanks to Adolf Hitler's folly in attacking Russia before he had subdued Britain, the German army that the Allies faced was fighting on two fronts. But the Wehrmacht was still one of best-trained and best-led armies the world had ever seen, a fact that neither Marshall nor Eisenhower fully recognized in the early months of the war.

Britain fully supported the policy of dealing with Germany first, but American and British strategies soon diverged. Winston Churchill had seen the quality of Germany's armed forces, and was wary of any direct, cross-Channel attack. Rather, he sought to work from the Mediterranean, pecking away from the south in such a way as to draw German forces from the Russian front.

When a cross-Channel attack in 1942 proved impractical, even to Marshall, the Allies agreed on a campaign in North Africa. It was just as well. Mr. Perry writes, The searing truth was that if the Americans and their British allies had fought in France as they had fought in North Africa, they would have been soundly defeated.

Not until 1944 did the Allies build up a force in Britain capable of launching a successful invasion of German-occupied France. …